The road between Bournemouth and Fordingbridge is long and wide and dips over and over like a perfect and seemingly infinite sine wave. We beg Dad to speed up on the declines, and he does, and our bellies leap and laugh within us. “Faster!” I shout, but Dad slows as a sign ahead announces our destination and exit: “Sandy Balls Estate”. Mum and Dad giggle suddenly, although my sister and I aren’t sure what’s so funny. We join in anyway, our stomachs still tickled and bent toward laughter.
“There it is,” Dad says, pointing toward a huge barn in the middle of a field. “Hundred years old, easy. What do you think, kids? See the horses?”
“Will they have crisps?” I respond. Barns and horses are all well and good, but I am properly hungry. “Mum said there’d be crisps. Salt and vinegar.”
“We’ll find you some crisps,” Mum says. “Need to find a parking space first though.”
We’re later than expected and cars are already filling up the small parking area within the farm gates. Dad sees his band mate, Dave, lead singer for Jack’s Maggot, who flags him down and points him toward a narrow spot next to his worse-for-wear Ford Transit. I look out the window and see our two cousins, Justine and Lee, playing on a fence nearby. “Lee and Jus are here!” I cry, and my sister and I launch ourselves from the car the moment it stops. “Don’t go far!” Mum shouts after us: “The dance starts soon!”
About an hour passes and mum lures us back to the barn with four bags of Murphy’s crisps, which we all gratefully receive. The band is inside warming up for the night ahead. People are filing in by the handful, and some have already taken to the dusty chalk floor designated for the dance, moving in lazy and expectant circles to the sounds of Dad’s noncommittal pluckings. Every single person I see is wearing jeans, like me. I’ve never seen so much denim in one place in my life.
Dave eventually fires up the festivities with the first dance, a crowd favorite called “My Complaining is But Feigning”, and every last seated person jumps up to join the revelry. Mum holds my hand as we perform a few clumsy rounds, but I am quickly overwhelmed by the pressing bodies and the rising heat and the words of the caller that make increasingly less sense to me: “Ace of diamonds, jack of spades, meet your partner and promenade.”
I give Mum’s shirt a tug. “Can we sit down now?”
“Come on then,” she agrees. “Do you want another bag of crisps?” I nod my head. We sit on a hay bale in front of the stage and my Aunt brings over a couple of shandies for each of them. Mum gives me a couple sips of hers, and I lay my head on her shoulder and watch the revelers leaping and tripping and laughing. My sister runs up: “We’re going outside to have a look at the horses. Coming?” I think for a second but then shake my head no and shut my eyes and lay my head down on Mum’s lap.
The air is warm and heavy and seems to move around my body in time to the music, and it feels like only moments pass before Mum is shaking me gently awake: “Come on, love. It’s time to go home.”
I’m dumbfounded - I can’t believe I've missed everything. “How long have I been asleep?”
“About an hour,” my sister interjects, holding my hand as we make our way back to the car. “And guess what,” she whispers.
Her eyes get wider. “We saw a UFO.”
I stop with my hand on the door handle. “You what? A UFO?”
“I’m telling you! A UFO! Three big bright lights in the sky, right above the field. They were moving up and down, over and over. It was magic. Lee almost wee’d his pants.” We get in the car falling over ourselves laughing.
It’s about a 40 minute drive home - an eternity - and I swivel around on the back seat and lay my head down and stare up and out the back window into the night sky. I wish I could see a UFO, just once, like my sister and my cousins.
Dad has the radio on, quietly, Rod Stewart singing Young Turks. Nobody’s speaking, everyone nearly as tired as I am. I suddenly notice a bright light like a star in the sky outside the window - it’s keeping pace with our car, moving up and down, up and down. “Finally,” I think to myself as my eyes slowly, irresistibly close.
Jack's Maggot is the funky offspring of my Dad's hairy, medieval, bawdy-ballad-jamming 80s band. Love it or hate it like Marmite.
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